CD Reviews

Aspera - 'Ripples' Hot

Added by James Gaden     May 02, 2010    
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Young Norwegian prog rock quintet.

There are several indecent things about this album. Firstly, it’s indecent that the protagonists were all under 20-years-old when they created it. It’s indecently good not just because of their age, whilst both the musical arrangements and musicianship are also indecently clever. I think you will have got the impression that I like this album a great deal, and I will be as bold as to say that I think that our readership will feel the same way.
Being very churlish I will say that if there is one small failing then it is that many of the songs follow a similar pattern with a big opening and then a quieter passage when the vocals start, but that might just be a product of the band’s youth and something they will work on with subsequent releases. That, I must stress, is a minor criticism and doesn’t detract from a truly wonderful collection of songs, amongst which there is not one filler or substandard offering.
The five piece from Skien in Norway featuring Atle Pettersen (vocals), Robin Ognedal (guitars), Nickolas Main Henriksen (keyboards), Joachim Strøm Ekelund (drums) and Rein T. Blomquist (bass) are set for great things if this debut album (there have been three EPs prior to this) is anything to go by, with a brand of Melodic Progressive Rock that will give them appeal across a range of genres and not just the Prog scene. Indeed, I could imagine these guys going down a storm at Firefest with their strong melodies, hooks and choruses.
The album opens with a short but haunting instrumental that features spoken sound bites in the background. It builds the atmosphere until the title track kicks in with its superb keyboard refrain in the manner of Stratovarius or Symphony X and a lovely gritty guitar riff that brings John Petrucci (Dream Theater) to mind. Consequently, when the vocals arrive on the scene it’s slightly surprising that they are mellower than this introduction would leave you to believe. The guitar work is wonderful on this track and throughout the album with the solo being beautifully executed, as is the keyboard solo.
The chorus on the following track, ‘Do I Dare?’ is a thing of utter beauty and I defy any reader of this magazine not to be enchanted by it. Again the solos from guitar and keyboards are spot on in terms of fitting with the flow of the track and very well delivered. The harmony vocals are exquisite and are another strength of the band and astounding for players of such tender years.
‘Remorse’ is a track that shows a number of different facets as it passes from a Dream Theater-ish riff to a more laid back section before the sound toughens again. There’s a neat shift in to a restrained but complex sounding guitar solo. The ending has Euro Metal overtones.
‘Between Black & White’ is the longest track on offer at a little over eight minutes and it immediately struck me that it is forged from similar raw materials as Saga with that familiar choppy guitar signature on the intro. There’s also something of fellow Scandinavians, A.C.T. in the arrangement not least because of the memorable and huge bridge and chorus. The way they bring together the heavy and the melodic is inspired as are the wonderful instrumental passages; particularly the classical piano interlude.
‘Catatonic Coma’ features another brilliant chorus and some heavy riffs whilst the following ‘Torn Apart’ moves matters in a slightly mellower direction. A piano and picked guitar refrain builds delightfully into a lovely strong and melodic riff. The little keyboard accentuations are wonderfully observed and the piano is beautiful. The chorus is sensational and has been locked into my head since the first time I heard it. Half way through they change into a higher gear but the glorious melody remains.
‘Traces Inside’ is another lengthy number and opens with another terrific riff which Ognedal peels off with ease. Again the middle eight and chorus are stupendous. Dream Theater are once more a reference point for certain passages, but I could throw a number of other influences into the mix. The guitar solo, once more, is so well delivered, the young man is bordering on a genius. ‘Reflections’ has a lovely acoustic guitar refrain which is followed by a sumptuous piano. Pettersen’s vocals are a delight on this short piece that you wish went on a bit longer such is its pathos.
After that, the closing number, ‘The Purpose’ hits you like a 10 ton truck as it bursts forth on a furious riff. The use of some vocals that come perilously close to growling is mercifully used sparingly. There’s a hint of deliberate discordancy, making this the most challenging of the songs on offer but they seem to instinctively know when to rein themselves in and the switch to a lighter feel (again featuring wonderful harmony vocals) arrives at just the right time to break up something that could have been overcooked.
This is without doubt an early contender for my albums of the year. Yes, it is that good.
Gary Marshall
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